Ministry of Sound sues Spotify

Two DJs walk into a bar. One says, "Hey, want to go see a movie?" The other says, "I don't know, who's the projectionist?"

Playlist service allegedly lets users make playlists.

Dance record label Ministry of Sound is suing music streaming service Spotify, claiming Spotify playlists copy its compilation albums.

Ministry of Sound regularly releases collections of dance hits. The compilations are not on Spotify, but the label says Spotify infringes copyright because some users' playlists mirror the albums' track listings.

Ministry of Sound does not own the copyright to many of the tracks on its compilations, the majority of which have been licensed from other record labels.

Ministry of Sound said "a lot of research goes into" creating the compilations. "What we do is a lot more than putting playlists together," Ministry of Sound chief executive Lohan Presencer told The Guardian.

"Oh wait," he did not clarify, "Actually that is in fact all we do. My bad."

It contends that the law protects "the expertise and creative effort involved" in curating titles such as The Sound Of Dubstep Classics and Ibiza Annual 2013.

The company is seeking an injunction requiring Spotify to remove the playlists in question and to permanently block playlists that copy its compilations. It is also seeking damages and costs.

Leaving that part in just for the repeated lulz of The Sound Of Dubstep Classics.

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23 Responses:

  1. King Mob says:

    To play Devil's Advocate:

    All Ministry of Sound does is put playlists together. Those playlists introduce casual music listeners to tracks they might enjoy, to which they would not otherwise have been exposed(because they bought them to check out this "dubstep" thing the kids like).

    This is a useful service to some people. Otherwise no one would buy these compilations. (Yes, I know it seems mindblowing that people buy these compilations.)

    Because this is a useful service, someone turns around and provides it for free on Spotify, out of the goodness of their hearts. And truly, it is out of the goodness of their hearts. What they are doing is technically free-riding off someone else's work. It's a miniscule amount of work, and the person doing the free-riding isn't hoping for any material advantage him or herself.

    And yet. Rather quickly this will render Ministry of Sound obsolete, and shortly after that, insolvent. So there won't be any more albums entitled Hey Oldster Who Doesn't Want to Feel Old, Here's a Sampling of Some Oontz Oontz You Might Likes but Would Not Otherwise Encounter.

    But then there won't be any playlist called Hey Oldster Etc. on Spotify either. For those oldsters, this will be a bad thing. Trying to find genre-defined playlists on Spotify is a nightmare of immersion in bad taste. There's no gatekeeper.

    I don't actually agree with this argument, but it's a colorable argument.

    Also, I don't believe that "Lohan Presencer" is some guy's name. Does he have an assistant named "Cyrus Profiler" or "Spears Imager?"

    • David M.A. says:

      It might indeed be useful work that the Ministry of Sound does. But does it rise to a copyrightable level of creative effort? I think not. Lots of useful services cannot be copyrighted.

      • King Mob says:

        I actually tend to agree. Also, I don't see what they want Spotify to do. There are far too many playlists to police.

      • jwz says:

        Put another way: just because you think it was hard doesn't mean anyone owes you a living for it.

      • Ben says:

        Damn. My comment below was meant to go here...

      • ix says:

        Some countries (mine) do have laws that make databases or indexes copyrightable if you can prove some sort of creativity in them. A quick google confirms that the UK also has some sort of database law. This might be bad news for spotify, because from what I remember of it, Ministry of Sound have a very good case.

        (I mean, not that I think it's a good thing, but they do have a case under current law)

    • andy says:

      Ah, but there's no evidence that the playlist was copied from their "hard work". In at least some cases it seems the playlist came first and MoS duplicated the work (independently, we presume).

      Coming right up: automatically generate all possible dubstep playlists, sue MoS on their next release.

    • phuzz says:

      "...Oontz Oontz..."
      I didn't know that was how it's spelt, but that is definitely the noise you hear from outside a club. (possibly with some BZZZZZZZTTTTTT as the bass rattles windows etc.)

  2. Jim Sweeney says:

    Oh the ironies!

  3. Ken says:

    Home fucking is killing prostitution.

  4. Ben says:

    At least in the UK, copyright law also covers 'databases', as in 'collections of pre-existing information compiled for some useful purpose'. (Personally I don't think it ought to: collating such databases may be work, but it's mechanical rather than creative work so it shouldn't be subject to copyright; but that's beside the point.) I don't know whether a mixtape would qualify, but it might.

  5. Ronan Waide says:

    I did this exact thing once, except on YouTube and with some other compilation house (KTel?)'s album (which I once owned, but that point seems irrelevant to the case). And I imagine some MoS lovers may have done the same thing with any of the playlist-supporting non-Spotify sites out there. Suing Spotify seems pretty arbitrary and opportunistic, but I guess the thinking is to establish a precedent with someone who can't afford to fight back, then use that precedent on the people who actually have money.

  6. Jamie says:

    Or of course, if people really want a "carefully-constructed" dubstep playlist, they could get the playlists that MoS publish on Amazon, and then play them on Spotify in that order!

  7. Ian says:

    Having seen it done somewhere else, the 'expertise and creative effort involved' isn't into the quality of the tracks, it's over the licensing fees and conditions to have the handful of tracks you actually want on something you can sell.

    The rights owners of in-demand tracks do plenty of 'If you want that track it'll be £ot$, and you'll also have to have this track for the same money. Yes, we know it's crap, take it or leave it'.

  8. Owen W. says:

    Two DJs walk into a bar. One says, "Hey, want to go see a movie?" The other says, "I don't know, who's curating the film festival?"

  9. Tim Dierks says:

    Playlists (compilations of songs) are eligible for copyright protection in the US (separate from the copyright on the works that make up the playlist). The same is probably true for most other nations. Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations, from the US Copyright Office, specifically provides as an example of a potentially-copyrightable work "A collection of sound recordings of the top hits of 2004". As such, it seems to me that (presuming the facts are as alleged) that Ministry of Sound is well-founded in making a DMCA claim against Spotify (I don't know the UK equivalent) to have such user-generated playlists removed.

    • Pavel Lishin says:

      Does this mean that if I happened to create such a playlist before they got around to it, I could sue them?

      And, as a follow up and get-rich-quick-scheme-of-the-day, would automatically generated playlists by a quick Python script qualify?

      • Tim Dierks says:

        (I am not a lawyer.)

        Yes, I think that if you created a playlist and they later published the same list, you would have a case for copyright infringement. The case would seem to turn on how unlikely it is that they developed it independently: if the playlists are obvious enough that there's only a small number of ones, such that independent creation of identical lists is plausible, then they're probably not eligible for copyright, as they don't have sufficient creative content. If they are not so obvious (and I think that's most likely, as there are presumably thousands of tracks to select from), then the most likely explanation of the duplication is infringement.

        Automatically-generated playlists fall into an interesting category. From what I understand, the copyright status of automatically-generated works isn't well-determined. Google, for example, argues that their search results are copyrightable, despite the fact that they're automatically generated from a search query and Google's internal data about the web. (See Copyright Protection for Search Results: “Hiybbprqag,” “Mbzrxpgjys,” and “Indoswiftjobinproduction” for further discussion.)

        However, it's clear that simple automatic collections are not protected: a phone book, for example, iswas just a list of people and phone numbers, and courts have ruled that such an automatic collection isn't protected.

        So, for example, a playlist with all the songs that contain the word "pirate" in the title, in chronological order, probably would not be eligible for protection. But an Echo Nest automatically-generated playlist that relies on complex algorithms and editorial judgement might be.

        My guess is that if you can write a program that can create playlists good enough for people to care enough to copy them, and non-trivial enough for them to independently replicate the process, it's plausible that those collections are eligible for copyright protection.

    • nomen says:

      So that means we can copyright Grocery list, Recepies, and better yet, list of numbers and domains! Copyright mayhem for everyone!

  10. MetaRZA says:

    You folks are mocking the hard work the Ministry of Sound puts into their playlists. They have to attend EVERY RAVE IN IBISA so they can quantify exactly what 2013 sounded like. They are putting their livers in peril to bring you those playlists. They risk dehydration daily, and you make jokes about it.

    • brianvan says:

      That's I-BEETH-A to you, sir. Pronounce it like a civilized ravepunk!

      How does one even search for playlists on Spotify, anyway? That's one area of the UI that is so bad that you'd think they were trying to discourage you from using queries for playlist discovery (as opposed to them encouraging you to discover your friends' playlists by creepy-snooping around their accounts)

    • k3ninho says:

      I'd have moar sympathy for them if they didn't also have a time machine to get that information about what 2013 sounded like into a 3-CD mix on sale in May 2013. These guys and their disregard for time-travel paradoxes, I don't know what gives -- hopefully not space-time.